Food Safety News
Raw Macadamia nuts, some diced, and sold under the Shurfine, Western Family, Hyvee, Market Pantry, Pear’s Gourmet, Cash-Wa Distributing, Pegler Sysco, and Mayan Gold brands were recalled late Friday by Bellevue, NE-based Marathon Ventures Inc.
Marathon said it has informed the FDA of its actions and is cooperating fully with the ongoing investigation.
Consumers who have purchased the items listed below should not consume this product and should return it to the store of purchase for a full refund or replacement.The recalled raw Macadamia nuts were sold after March 11, 2014, through grocery, food service and other retail outlets throughout the country.
The complete recall list with UPC and lot numbers can be found here.
Another day, another ruling on so-called Country-of-origin labeling (COOL) of muscle cuts of meat.
The latest is a decision by the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit not to rehear the dispute. That means, unless the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the issue, that domestic courts are fine with U.S. Department of Agriculture rules that require producers to keep track and report on the label on the birthplace, residence, and location at passing for each hunk of meat sold at retail in the U.S. regardless of the burden or cost.
However, the World Trade Organization sees those very provisions as illegal non-tariff barriers to trade. Canada and Mexico recently won another round of WTO rulings that many manufacturers and agricultural interests fear will allow those countries to impose crippling retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports.
It means instead of just being a regulatory cost falling on the meat industry and its consumers, COOL could result in Canada and Mexico being able to collect billions of dollars of extra tariffs or taxes from a wide variety of U.S. industries.
WTO may impose such tariffs to punish countries that violate their trade agreements.
That’s caused a broad coalition of the U.S. manufacturing and agricultural industry to begin lobbying Congress for changes that to make COOL WTO compliant before early next year when those tariffs might become a reality.
Original supporters of COOL, including the Farm Bureau and United Stockgrowers of America, are buoyed by its support from domestic judges and oppose changes to accommodate WTO.
Mexican-style dairy products manufactured by Oasis Brands, Inc. that were recalled for Listeria contamination earlier this year have now been linked to three cases of Listeria, including one death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The illnesses occurred in September 2013, and June and August of 2014, and spread across New York, Tennessee and Texas. The patient from Tennessee died, and all three patients were hospitalized.
All three ill people were identified as being of Hispanic ethnicity and the two surviving patients reported eating Mexican-style soft cheese, but could not remember the brand.
In August 2014, Oasis Brands recalled a quesito casero product for possible contamination of Listeria. On October 6, the company recalled a cuajada en hoja product for the same reason, and then it recalled a number of other cheese products under the Lacteos Santa Martha brand name 10 days later.
Whole-genome sequencing of product samples from Oasis Brands suggests a possible link between those products and the illnesses. CDC says that the investigation is still ongoing.
Rolling Acres Cider Mill is recalling unpasteurized apple cider from the marketplace due to E.coli O157:H7 contamination. There have been reported illnesses associated with the consumption of the products.
The following products were sold by Rolling Acres Cider Mill at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market located in Waterloo, Ontario on October 11, 2014 and from the company’s own location in Waterloo, Ontario between October 10, 2014 and October 11, 2014.Brand Name Common Name Size Code(s) on Product Rolling Acres Pure apple cider
“Unpasturized” 2 L 10-10 Rolling Acres Pure apple cider
“Unpasturized” 4 L 10-10 None Unpasteurized apple cider This product was sold in unlabeled plastic bags None
Food contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 may not look or smell spoiled but can still make you sick. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, mild to severe abdominal cramps and watery to bloody diarrhea. In severe cases of illness, some people may have seizures or strokes, need blood transfusions and kidney dialysis or live with permanent kidney damage. In severe cases of illness, people may die.Check to see if you have the products in your home. If the products are in your home, do not consume them.
The recall was triggered by findings by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) during its investigation into a foodborne illness outbreak. The CFIA is conducting a food safety investigation, which may lead to the recall of other products. If other high-risk products are recalled, the CFIA will notify the public through updated Food Recall Warnings.
The government of Panama has revealed that, in July of this year, it levied a fine on AquaBounty Technologies, the Massachusetts-based company seeking government approval to bring the first genetically modified salmon to market in the U.S.
AquaBounty apparently did not have the necessary water use and water discharge permits necessary for running its operations in Panama, where it has a pilot facility, and total coliform bacteria were allegedly above acceptable levels.
The Panamanian government determined that the company had repeatedly violated regulations and should be issued the maximum allowable fine of $9,500.
AquaBounty says that company officials immediately contacted the proper authorities in Panama after becoming aware of the permitting failures, and that everything was squared away by August. The company also paid the fine.
“The nature of the violations had no bearing on the containment or health of our fish, or the safety of our operations,” the company said in a statement.
AquaBounty added that its facility is frequently inspected by the Panamanian government and continues to operate without any restrictions. In addition, it said that the company’s facility was built and operating before some of the permit regulations were passed.
In response to the violations and fine, U.S. consumer groups such as Food & Water Watch and the Center for Food Safety are calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to deny AquaBounty’s application to sell GE salmon in grocery stores here.
AquaBounty’s CEO Ron Stotish told Seafoodsource that those groups were being “blatantly misleading” by implying that there is a safety issue concerning the fish when there is none.
FDA is still reviewing AquaBounty’s application. The fish is an Atlantic salmon that contains genes from a Pacific Chinook salmon and an ocean pout that allow the fish to grow to market size twice as fast.
For years, FDA has declined to provide a timeline for when the agency might make its decision. AquaBounty says it began the FDA application process in 1995.
A 2010 FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine review of the AquaBounty application concluded that the salmon was as safe to eat as Atlantic salmon and does not pose a threat to the environment. According to AquaBounty, the salmon will only grow in land-based, contained facilities and that all the fish are sterile females.
Due to consumer demand, a number of U.S. grocery retailers, including Kroger, Safeway and Target, have already pledged not to sell the AquaBounty salmon should it be approved by FDA.
Oceana, the oceans conservation group that’s earned a reputation for sniffing out fish fraud, is out with a new study on how consumers are even being fooled by America’s favorite seafood — shrimp purchased at restaurants and grocery stores.
In the only known U.S. study using DNA testing on retail and restaurant shrimp, Oceana confirmed that 30 percent of the 143 products tested from 111 grocery stores and restaurants were misrepresented. It also found that consumers are often provided with little information about the shrimp they purchase, including where and how it was caught or farmed, making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to make informed choices.
“Despite its popularity, U.S. consumers are routinely given little to no information about the shrimp they purchase,” said Beth Lowell, senior campaign director at Oceana. “While shrimp is the most commonly consumed seafood in the U.S., and the most highly traded seafood in the world, its high demand has led to conservation concerns as well as a bait and switch on consumers. Without tracking what, where and how our seafood is caught or farmed, and ensuring that this basic information follows the product through each step in the supply chain, shrimp will continue to be misrepresented.”
Oceana found misrepresented shrimp everywhere it tested, including rates of 43 percent in New York, NY, 33 percent in Washington, D.C., 30 percent in the Gulf of Mexico region (Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach, FL; Mobile and Orange Beach, AL; Biloxi and Ocean Springs, MS; New Orleans, LA, and Houston and Galveston, TX), and 5 percent in Portland, OR.
The study defined misrepresentation as products that were mislabeled (one species swapped out for another), misleading (e.g., farmed species labeled as “Gulf”), or mixed/mystery (e.g., commingling species among bagged shrimp).
Overall, 35 percent of the 111 vendors visited nationwide sold misrepresented shrimp, the report stated. Of the 70 restaurants visited, 31 percent sold misrepresented shrimp, and 41 percent of the 41 grocery stores visited sold misrepresented products.
However, shrimp purchased from grocery stores and restaurants were misrepresented at the same rate – 30 percent.
“I’ve seen cute little cleaner shrimp in aquariums and while scuba diving, but never expected to find one on a grocery shelf,’” said Dr. Kimberly Warner, report author and senior scientist at Oceana. “We really know very little about the shrimp we eat, and the information we do get may not be trustworthy. Consumers have a right to know more about the shrimp they purchase in order to make more responsible choices.”
Among the report’s other key findings were:
- The most common species substitution was farmed whiteleg shrimp sold as “wild” shrimp and “Gulf” shrimp.
- Forty percent of the 20 shrimp species or categories collected and identified were not previously known to be sold in the U.S.
- No samples labeled as “farmed” were mislabeled, while more than half of the samples labeled simply “shrimp” were actually a wild-caught species.
- A banded coral “shrimp,” which is an aquarium pet not intended to be consumed as food, was found commingled with another unidentified shrimp in a bag of frozen salad-sized shrimp purchased in the Gulf.
- Overall, 30 percent of more than 400 shrimp products surveyed in grocery stores lacked information on country of origin, 29 percent lacked farmed/wild information, and one in five did not provide either.
- The majority of the 600 restaurant menus surveyed did not provide the diner with any information on the type of shrimp, whether it was farmed/wild or its origin.
President Obama last June created a dedicated government task force to combat seafood fraud and help keep illegally caught fish out of the U.S. market. Oceana is encouraging the task force to take a comprehensive approach to addressing these issues, including requiring traceability for all seafood sold in the U.S. to ensure that it is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled.
“Until traceability is the status quo, consumers should ask more questions about the seafood they purchase, including what kind it is, if it is wild or farm-raised, and where and how it was caught,” said Lowell. “And whenever possible, consumers should also support traceable seafood, which will tell the story of the product while helping to ensure that it is honestly labeled.”
Since 2011, Oceana has worked to expose seafood fraud in the U.S. In a nationwide study released last year, Oceana found that 33 percent of the more than 1,200 fish samples it tested were not accurately labeled according to Food and Drug Administration guidelines.
Here are some simple steps, courtesy of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to help children and parents have a fun – and safe – Halloween:
- Children shouldn’t snack while they’re out trick-or-treating. Urge your children to wait until they get home and you have had a chance to inspect the contents of their “goody bags.”
- To help prevent children from snacking, give them a light meal or snack before they head out — don’t send them out on an empty stomach.
- Tell children not to accept — and especially not to eat — anything that isn’t commercially wrapped.
- Parents of very young children should remove any choking hazards such as gum, peanuts, hard candies or small toys.
- Inspect commercially wrapped treats for signs of tampering, such as an unusual appearance or discoloration, tiny pinholes, or tears in wrappers. Throw away anything that looks suspicious.
- If juice or cider is served to children at Halloween parties, make sure it is pasteurized or otherwise treated to destroy harmful bacteria. Juice or cider that has not been treated will state it on the label.
- No matter how tempting, don’t taste raw cookie dough or cake batter.
- Before going bobbing for apples, an all-time favorite Halloween game, reduce the number of bacteria that might be present on apples and other raw fruits and vegetables by thoroughly rinsing them under cool running water. As an added precaution, use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
- “Scare” bacteria away by keeping all perishable foods chilled until serving time. These include, for example, finger sandwiches, cheese platters, fruit or tossed salads, cold pasta dishes with meat, poultry, or seafood, and cream pies or cakes with whipped-cream and cream-cheese frostings. Cold temperatures help keep most harmful bacteria from multiplying. And don’t leave the food at room temperature for more than two hours.
The increasing availability of marijuana-infused edibles that look like candy is prompting warnings from law enforcement in some parts of the country. There are treats out there now containing cannabis that look like gummy candy, as well as pot-infused chocolates, mints and others, so take a close look before eating unfamiliar treats or allowing your child to do so.
FDA is also reminding the public that consumption of too much black licorice can be bad for some people, particularly those older than 40 who have heart problems. The agency notes, however, that a person would have to eat quite a bit of it in order to develop serious issues.
A food service worker with an acute Hepatitis A infection has been identified in Cumberland County, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC). The worker served food while infectious from Sept. 29 to Oct. 11, 2014. Officials did not disclose the name of the Cumberland County restaurant that employed the infected food service worker.
A public health assessment by Maine CDC of the employee’s illness and food and beverage preparation practices determined that patrons of the unnamed restaurant might be at risk for Hepatitis A infection. The agency was notified of the illness beyond the 14-day window of opportunity for post-exposure prophylaxis to be effective.
Maine CDC said health care providers are encouraged to remain vigilant for Hepatitis A infection in persons with consistent symptoms. The fecal-oral route, commonly through consumption of contaminated food or water, transmits the Hepatitis A virus.
Persons will begin to exhibit symptoms 15-50 days after exposure to the virus. A person is considered infectious approximately two weeks prior to symptom onset until one week after onset of symptoms.
Exposed persons can receive post-exposure prophylaxis up to 14 days after exposure. Prophylaxis includes Hepatitis A vaccine for individuals 12 months to 40 years or immune globulin (IG) for individuals younger than than 12 months or 41 years of age and older (vaccine can be given to individuals 41 and older if IG is unavailable).
Healthcare providers should consider testing for Hepatitis A if patients present with any of the following symptoms: fever, jaundice, nausea, clay-colored stool, dark urine, malaise, abdominal discomfort, or anorexia.
Maine requires all suspected and confirmed cases of Hepatitis A to be reported to the state’s disease reporting and consultation line at 1-800-821-5821 on a 24/7 basis.
Carlton Foods of New Braunfels, TX, is recalling approximately 25,764 pounds of fresh Boudin products produced with pre-cooked rice that may have experienced temperature abuse and may contain an emetic toxin produced by Bacillus cereus, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced Thursday.
- 12-oz. vacuum-packed packages of “RICHARD’S HICKORY SMOKED BOUDIN”
- 12-oz. vacuum-packed packages of “RICHARD’S PREMIUM BOUDIN”
- 12-oz. vacuum-packed packages of “RICHARD’S ‘HOT’ PREMIUM BOUDIN”
- 16-oz. vacuum-packed packages of “RICHARD’S PREMIUM BOUDIN”
- 32-oz. vacuum-packed packages of “RICHARD’S CAJUN GRILLERS BOUDIN”
The products subject to recall bear the establishment number “EST. 1943” or “EST. 961” inside the USDA mark of inspection. Products with the EST. 961 inside the mark of inspection would also have NB printed on the label. “Sell By” dates for the recalled products range from Oct. 28, 2014, to Dec. 16, 2014. The products were shipped to retail locations in Louisiana and Texas.
The problem was discovered by FSIS personnel during a Food Safety Assessment. During production, FSIS personnel observed pre-cooked rice, a component of the Boudin, being held at unsafe temperatures, which could result in the products containing an emetic toxin produced by Bacillus cereus.
Bacillus cereus is a type of bacteria that can be found in a variety of foods, particularly rice that has been stored too long at room temperature. Emetic toxins produced by Bacillus cereus can cause nausea and vomiting to occur within 30 minutes to six hours after consumption of contaminated foods.
FSIS and the company have received no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products. Individuals concerned about an illness should contact a health care provider.
FSIS routinely conducts recall effectiveness checks to verify recalling firms notify their customers of the recall and that steps are taken to make certain that the product is no longer available to consumers. When available, the retail distribution list(s) will be posted on the FSIS website at www.fsis.usda.gov/recalls.
Consumers with questions regarding the recall can contact Randy Rust, company president, at (830) 625-7583, ext. 109.
In a letter to Congress on Thursday, numerous U.S. manufacturing and agricultural interests formally began a campaign to remove elements of the country of-origin labeling (COOL) laws which apply to muscle cuts of meat.
They say Congress should act now to rescind offending COOL language before final adjudication by the World Trade Organization (WTO) early next year. They fear that Canada and Mexico will then begin to impose punitive tariffs on any number of manufacturing and agricultural products produced in the U.S.
“It is expected that U.S. industries would suffer billions in lost sales if retaliation is allowed,” the letter states. “Given the negative impact on the U.S. manufacturing and agriculture economies, we respectfully submit that it would be intolerable for the United States to maintain, even briefly, a rule that has been deemed non-compliant by the WTO.”
“With little potential for quick Congressional action after a WTO final adjudication, we request that Congress immediately authorize and direct the Secretary of Agriculture to rescind elements of COOL that have been determined to be non-compliant with international trade obligations by a final WTO adjudication,” the letter continues. “Such action by Congress would not undermine COOL to the extent COOL is consistent with international trade obligations nor would it weaken the U.S. defense of COOL in WTO litigation.”
Those signing the letter also provided Congress with a new COOL Reform Coalition website to track how much potential retaliatory tariffs would impose on the economy of each state.
(This blog post, published here on Oct. 21, 2014, is the first in a series of five-question interviews the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is doing with stakeholders in government innovation, food/food safety, and other areas that relate to the 2014 FDA Food Safety Challenge.)
Today’s “Five Questions” features Palmer Orlandi, Ph.D., senior science advisor, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine (OFVM). Orlandi’s role within OFVM includes ensuring integration and coordination of Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and Center for Veterinary Medicine research and methods development/validation activities with corresponding FDA field laboratories in support of the agency’s public health and regulatory mission.
Can you describe why Salmonella represents such a serious problem in food safety? How does it differ from other pathogens?
While the American food supply is among the safest in the world, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in six Americans is sickened by foodborne illness annually, resulting in about 3,000 deaths each year. It is estimated that the overall negative economic impact of foodborne illness in the United States, including medical costs, quality-of-life losses, lost productivity and lost-life expectancy, may be as high as $77 billion per year. Salmonella represents the leading cause of deaths and of hospitalizations related to foodborne illness. Contaminated produce is responsible for nearly half of foodborne illnesses and almost a quarter of foodborne-related deaths.
The genus Salmonella includes two species: S. enterica and S. bongori. Within these two species, there are more than 2,500 serotypes, with new serotypes being identified every year. Salmonella spp. can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella spp. often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella spp. can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (e.g., infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis. In addition, direct-human-contact animal foods contaminated with Salmonella spp. pose a significant health risk to humans who have direct contact with the foods at homes, petting zoos, agricultural fairs, or similar venues.
Eggs, egg products, fresh produce, and processed produce account for the majority of food matrices associated with Salmonella contamination. For example, fresh fruits and vegetables destined for domestic and international distribution are grown in large orchards or farm fields. Consequently, there is an increased potential for surface contamination from environmental sources. Fresh produce is by nature a perfect vehicle for a foodborne illness, as it is difficult to remove contaminating pathogens before the consumer eats it. Packaging and further processing (e.g., cutting, slicing, rinsing) under unsanitary conditions provides additional opportunities for contamination of harvested produce. Large-scale outbreaks of Salmonellosis include the nationwide Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak in 2008, the nationwide outbreak from peanut products in 2009, and the nationwide outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis in shell eggs in 2010 that caused more than 1,600 illnesses. Salmonella outbreak investigations linked to human foods as reported by CDC also included nine in 2011, nine in 2012, seven in 2013, and five so far in 2014.
How would faster detection of Salmonella help FDA fulfill its mission to assure the safety of America’s food supply?
Outbreak investigations involving foodborne illness are a time-sensitive endeavor, particularly for those commodities having a limited/short shelf life such as fresh produce, and are dependent on the gathering of epidemiological evidence to link clinical findings to a putative food source. Detection methods in foods for microbial pathogens in general and Salmonella specifically have largely relied on time-consuming enrichment steps. The results of food matrix analysis are vital to limiting the scope of the outbreak, removing a suspected commodity from the marketplace, and identifying the point source of contamination. Consequently, analytical timeliness is of paramount importance.
Through the development of more rapid and robust detection methods (without sacrificing sensitivity or specificity), we will be better able to limit outbreaks of illness and ensure that any adulterated products are prevented from entering into commerce or, if already there, removed as soon as possible.
What scientific advances do you find particularly exciting as they relate to improving food safety and foodborne pathogen detection?
There are three innovations on the horizon that I believe will have a large impact on protecting the public health.
Hand-held detector technologies are becoming a reality and have the potential to rapidly and reliably perform on-site analyses for the presence of foodborne adulterants. Though there currently are no such field-ready devices to detect microbial foodborne pathogens with the necessary sensitivity, these portable units, when fully developed, are envisioned to perform their analyses outside the laboratory setting, require little or no sample preparation, and provide results in real time.
Whole genome sequencing (WGS) is another innovation that will forever change our approach to foodborne pathogen detection, surveillance and epidemiological investigations. The level of granularity in the data provided by WGS applications, coupled with its growing speed and affordability, will allow the agency to identify incidences of microbial foodborne contamination and link these events to their source with greater speed and certainty.
The third innovation is the incorporation of geographic information systems (GIS), a mapping technology, as a tool to help us understand real and potential pathogen contamination and transmission routes as food moves from farm to table. When coupled with the tracking of environmental data (e.g., seasonality, climate conditions, etc.) and WGS applications to provide epidemiological data, we will be able to better assess risk for foodborne contamination that may be associated with farm-to-table processes.
Why did FDA decide to utilize an open innovation competition to help solve this problem?
FDA realizes that there is great benefit in collaboration and in maximizing resources, manpower, and — most of all — ideas. By reaching out to the general public, academia, and the larger scientific, innovation, and solver communities through this challenge, we are provided with the opportunity to view solutions to our food safety problems through a different lens. It’s a means to consider approaches (and possible solutions) through others’ eyes with technology that we may not have considered applicable. Some of the greatest innovations are born from “outside-the-box” thinking and this is what we hope to achieve. The prize purse doesn’t hurt as an added incentive either.
How do you see open innovation efforts, like the 2014 FDA Food Safety Challenge, impacting how FDA protects America’s food supply?
FDA and our food industry stakeholders share common goals and responsibilities of providing a safe product to our citizens and ensuring the public health. We also share many of the same scientific knowledge gaps needed to fulfill these responsibilities. Specifically, foods are a diverse and heterogeneous matrix and present many challenges analytically to ensuring they are devoid of either chemical or biological adulterants. This first FDA Food Safety Challenge is a means for the agency to achieve a common goal using a new collaborative approach.
Government attorneys have asked U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands to deny Michael Parnell’s motion for acquittal on the charges for which a jury found him guilty after a nearly eight-week trial.
In its first response to post-trial motions made by all three defendants in the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) case, the prosecution team says that any inconsistencies between the jury finding Michael Parnell not guilty of shipping adulterated food but guilty of interstate shipments fraud and shipping misbranded foods are not an issue because juries are “free to choose among the reasonable constructions of the evidence.”
Parnell, a peanut broker, and his brother Stewart Parnell, owner of the now-defunct PCA, were together found guilty of 97 felony counts by a jury on Sept. 19, 2014. At the same trial, Mary Wilkerson, PCA’s Blakely, GA, quality assurance manager, was also found guilty of one of two counts of obstruction of justice.
All three defendants filed post-trial motions for acquittal.
“The evidence need not exclude every hypothesis of innocence or be inconsistent with every conclusion except guilt,” the prosecution team argues. “It is not enough for a defendant to put forth a reasonable hypothesis of innocence, because the issue is not whether a jury reasonably could have acquitted but whether it reasonably could not have found guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
K. Alan Dasher, assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, along with U.S. Department of Justice lawyers Patrick H. Hearn and Mary M. Englehart, submitted arguments that purport to show that “the evidence against defendant Michael Parnell at trial was overwhelming.”
They picked a dozen specific instances to help show where they proved at trial that the Parnell brothers “engaged in fraud and both conspired to commit fraud.” They say that witness testimony “was strongly corroborated by voluminous documentary evidence. Furthermore, this evidence was largely uncontested and uncontroverted.”
Further, the government’s attorneys claim that the jury verdicts “are in no sense inconsistent.”
“All of the misbranding and mail fraud counts against defendant Michael Parnell were supported by the evidence that the shipments were accompanied by false and fraudulent certificates of analysis. The evidence showed that Michael Parnell was deeply involved with creating those false and fraudulent certificates of analysis,” they write.
“A finding of guilt on those counts is in no way inconsistent with a finding of not guilty of shipping adulterated food, a separate crime that rested on different conduct,” they continue. “A rational juror could have decided that Michael Parnell was far enough removed from the actual operations of the PCA facilities that he was not culpable for the insanitary conditions within those facilities, while still finding him culpable of shipping misbranded food produced at those facilities.”
The prosecution team also cites U.S. Supreme Court precedents that found jury verdicts are “insulated from review on grounds they are inconsistent.” As long as a jury verdict is supported by sufficient evidence, it can stand, they argue.
Stewart Parnell and Wilkerson have also asked Judge Sands to overturn the jury verdicts that found them guilty. In addition, the Parnell brothers have asked for a new trial in part based on possible research some jurors might have done on their own into the foodborne illnesses that stemmed from the PCA plant at Blakely, GA, five years ago.
Court documents show that Sands conducted a post-trial evidentiary hearing in the privacy of his chambers last week. He has also issued some sealed orders, but he is not thought to have ruled on any of the major post-trial issues.
Shenandoah Growers Inc. of Harrisonburg, VA, announced Wednesday that one lot of its conventional fresh-cut cilantro was being recalled due to the potential of Salmonella contamination.
The company said the single lot, consisting of 465 plastic clamshell containers in all, was shipped to two customers in Maryland and Alabama (one retail distribution center and one wholesaler) on Oct. 8 and 9, 2014.
Only two of the company’s products are affected by this recall, and each bears the lot code “15 273283″ stamped on the front of the package. The two products are Shenandoah Growers brand conventional fresh-cut cilantro in 0.75-ounce plastic clamshells and Giant brand conventional fresh-cut cilantro in 2.5-ounce plastic clamshells.
Due to perishability, the recalled products are very likely no longer available in the marketplace, the company stated. No illnesses have been reported to date, and no other products sold by Shenandoah Growers are affected.
Anyone who purchased either of these products bearing the lot number indicated above and still has it in their possession is advised to dispose of it.
The grower initiated this recall after receiving test results on Oct. 28 that one of four routine samples taken on Oct. 8 by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services revealed the presence of Salmonella. Concurrent testing of samples from the same lot conducted by an independent laboratory as part of the company’s internal testing program contained no findings of contamination.
Shenandoah Growers has set up a consumer call center to respond to any questions or concerns. The number is 844-524-3885, and the hours are Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET, and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.
The San Mateo Health System is investigating the source of apparent food poisoning that sickened attendees at a NAACP convention in Redwood City, CA, this past weekend.
Health officials said that 12 people were taken to the hospital by ambulance and several more transported themselves to hospitals after a banquet dinner closing the 27th Annual NAACP California Hawaii State Convention held at the Sofitel Luxury Hotel from Oct. 23-26.
Former Oakland Mayor and Assemblyman Elihu Harris was reportedly one of the attendees hospitalized.
The San Mateo health department would not provide an estimate of how many people were sickened in total, but reports indicate that the number was at least 50 and possibly as many as 100 suffered from vomiting and diarrhea.
The San Jose Mercury News reports that convention attendees were throwing up in the hotel lobby by 10:30 p.m. on Saturday night.
Sandra Pinto Duhamel of Accor Hotels, which operates the Sofitel, said in a statement, “While we do not know the cause of the illness, we are cooperating with Health Department officials at this time. We remain very concerned about the well-being of the guests who became sick and wish them a speedy recovery.”
In 2008, 62 people attending a Redwood City-San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce event at the same hotel were infected with Norovirus.
Following last week’s recall of fresh Serrano chile peppers by Bailey Farms Inc., Giant Food Stores LLC and Martin’s Food Markets announced that they removed from sale Serrano, Anaheim, Red Cherry Hot and Finger Hot peppers sold in a variety case due to potential Salmonella contamination.
The following product is included in this recall: Serrano, Anaheim, Red Cherry Hot and Finger Hot Peppers, PLU 4691, purchased on or after Oct. 9, 2014. The stores have not received any reports of illnesses to date.
Customers who have purchased the product should discard any unused portions and bring their purchase receipt to Giant/Martin’s for a full refund.
Consumers looking for additional information on the recall may call Bailey Farms at 888-820-2545. In addition, customers may call Giant/Martin’s customer service at 1-888-814-4268 for more information. Customers can also visit the store websites at www.giantfoodstores.com or www.martinsfoods.com.
Consumption of food contaminated with Salmonella can cause Salmonellosis, one of the most common bacterial foodborne illnesses. Salmonella infections can be life-threatening, especially to those with weak immune systems, such as infants, the elderly and persons with HIV infection or undergoing chemotherapy.
The most common manifestations of Salmonellosis are diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within eight to 72 hours. Additional symptoms may include chills, headache, nausea and vomiting that can last up to seven days.
(Update: On Wednesday, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service posted a 13-page distribution list of retail stories in CO, ID, IL, MA, ME, MI, MN, MT, ND, NH, NV, RI, VT, UT, WI and WY which may have received this recalled product.)
Chicago-based Aspen Foods Division of Koch Meats is recalling 28,980 pounds of chicken products shipped to Minnesota that may be contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis. The U.S. Department of Agriculture requested that Aspen Foods conduct this recall after the product was found to have caused an outbreak in Minnesota that has sickened at least six people.
The recalled product includes partially prepared chicken products sold by retailers under the Antioch Farms brand name with sell-by dates of Oct. 1, 2015, and Oct. 7, 2015. The products subject to recall bear the establishment number “P-1358” inside the USDA mark of inspection.
The products are raw, frozen, breaded and pre-browned, stuffed chicken entrees.
The chicken products were produced on July 2, 2014, and July 8, 2014. These products were shipped to retail stores and distribution centers in Minnesota.
The product is identified as:
- Single 5-ounce plastic packets of Raw Stuffed Chicken Breast Breaded, Boneless Breast of Chicken with Rib Meat “A La Kiev”
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service was notified of an investigation of Salmonella Enteritidis illnesses on Oct. 9, 2014.
Working in conjunction with Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FSIS determined that there is a link between the Chicken Kiev from Aspen Foods Division of Koch Foods and this illness cluster.
The illness onset dates in the outbreak range from Aug. 17, 2014, to Sept. 27, 2014. At least one patient has been hospitalized.
All six patients reported eating the chicken Kiev product prior to developing symptoms. Samples of product collected during the course of this investigation by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture tested positive for Salmonella Enteritidis with the outbreak strain.
On Oct. 17, 2014, FSIS received evidence that linked the illnesses associated with this outbreak to a specific product or production lot. Evidence that is required for a recall includes obtaining case-patient product that tests positive for the same particular strain of Salmonella that caused the illness and packaging on the product that clearly links the product to a specific facility and a specific production date, which were all met.
FSIS is continuing to work with its public health partners on this investigation and will provide updated information as it becomes available.
A widely held belief among food safety experts is that the U.S. beef industry has made enormous strides in the past two decades to reduce outbreaks and recalls associated with beef. One of the many measures initiated by industry to help reduce illness associated with beef has been the Beef Safety Conference, held each year by the North American Meat Association.
This year’s conference occurred earlier this month in Chicago, and the organizers didn’t shy away from the hard statistics regarding how much more room for improvement is left when it comes to beef and harmful pathogens.
The conference included a presentation on beef-related illness data by L. Hannah Gould, Ph.D., leader of the National Outbreak Reporting System Team at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Despite the two decades of progress made to reduce beef-related outbreaks, beef is still the third most common food commodity to be associated with illness, just behind fish and dairy, Gould said.
Anywhere from 11 to 28 percent of the U.S. population is estimated to consume ground beef raw or uncooked, Gould said. And, with 25 billion pounds of beef consumed in the U.S. each year, there is ample opportunity for foodborne illness.
CDC counted at least 75 outbreaks associated with beef over the five-year period between 2009 and 2013. Of those, 35 percent were caused by E. coli O157:H7 and 23 percent by Salmonella, leading Gould to focus on both of those pathogens in her presentation.
The presentation was split into two parts based on two separate papers CDC plans to publish in the coming months. The first is a 10-year update to CDC’s previous 10-year summary of E. coli outbreaks, while the other summarizes a history of Salmonella outbreaks caused by beef dating back to 1973.
Because neither paper has been released yet, Gould told Food Safety News that the data reported in the presentation should be considered preliminary and unpublished.
E. coli O157:H7, the pathogen most commonly associated with ground beef, causes an estimated 96,000 illnesses, 3,200 hospitalizations and 31 deaths in the U.S. each year, adding up to $405 million in annual healthcare expenses.
CDC tracked 391 E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks in the 10 years between 2003 and 2012. Between those outbreaks, the agency confirmed 4,930 cases of illness, with 1,274 (26 percent) hospitalizations, 300 (6 percent) cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), and 34 deaths.
Food is by far the most common source of E. coli O157:H7, accounting for 65 percent of cases. The other major sources of E. coli are animal contact (10 percent) and person-to-person transmission (10 percent).
The most common food source for E. coli turns out to be beef, which has been implicated in 55 percent of E. coli outbreaks. The next closest commodities are leafy greens (21 percent) and dairy (11 percent). All other meats and poultry together account for 6 percent.
Breaking those beef sources down even further reveals that ground beef causes 69 percent of related outbreaks, while steak is linked to 14 percent and “other” beef to 17 percent.
E. coli outbreaks tend to peak in July each year, which matches up perfectly with the time of year that cattle shed the most E. coli.
Beef was also found to be much more likely to sicken people who cooked it at home compared to eating out. According to the data, private home cooking accounted for 33 percent of all E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks, but it accounted for 56 percent of all beef-related E. coli outbreaks.
The major takeaway, Gould said, is that beef is still the most common source of E. coli, and young children are the most impacted age group. CDC also tracked more E. coli outbreaks from 2003-2012 than in the previous 20 years.
Despite serious efforts to control Salmonella, rates of Salmonella infection have remained steady for the past 15 years. And, in recent years, industry has taken a heightened interest in finding ways to reduce Salmonella contamination in beef.
According to CDC, beef is the fourth most common cause of Salmonella outbreaks. Salmonella, however, is not considered an adulterant in beef the way several strains of E. coli are considered adulterants in ground beef.
CDC tracked at least 95 outbreaks of Salmonella from beef between 1973 and 2011, resulting in 3,643 confirmed illnesses and 318 (9 percent) hospitalizations.
While roast beef seemed to be the predominant cause of beef-related Salmonella outbreaks in the 1970s and 1980s, ground beef has become the dominant source since 1990, and the data show a sharp increase in ground beef-related Salmonella outbreaks after 2000.
With antimicrobial resistance data available in 14 outbreaks, isolates from eight of those outbreaks (57 percent) were found to be resistant to at least one class of antimicrobial agent. Ground beef was the food source in all eight of those outbreaks.
Those antimicrobial-resistant Salmonella outbreaks were also found to be more virulent: While 9 percent of patients were hospitalized in outbreaks involving strains with no resistance, antimicrobial-resistant strains hospitalized 23 percent of patients.
The takeaway here, Gould said, is that outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella in ground beef appear to be a growing problem.
“More needs to be done with Salmonella and beef,” she said.
Avoiding outbreaks caused by beef
Gould ended her presentation with some recommendations for reducing the number of foodborne illness outbreaks caused by beef. Namely, she said, consumers and food handlers need to be educated on the dangers of undercooked beef, including mechanically tenderized steak.
She also called for more judicious use of antibiotics in human medicine and animal husbandry, as well as tighter controls to prevent the contamination of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella in ground beef.
Gould added that she values the opportunity to share these data with the beef industry.
“Any time we have a chance to collaborate with industry is great,” Gould told Food Safety News. “There’s a shared desire to not have illnesses and outbreaks associated with beef and other meat products.”
(This article by Douglas Karas was first published in the October/November 2014 issue of Food Safety Magazine and is reposted here with permission.)
In the spring of 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began to hear from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health partners about cases of Salmonellosis. The case count grew quickly. In the first week of April, 93 illnesses were reported. The next week, there were 116, and, a week later, there were 139. By early May, the number of cases had nearly doubled. The final count: 425 people had been reported ill by the end of the outbreak. But by using traceback analysis, FDA was able to follow a trail of tuna shipments to its source, leading to the recall of 58,000 pounds of frozen tuna and helping to prevent additional illnesses.
FDA, CDC, and state and local agencies worked together in a huge effort to determine whether tuna imported from India was the culprit. During a multistate foodborne disease outbreak, public health partners conduct surveillance to identify and interview people who have become ill. CDC serves as lead coordinator to help detect the outbreak, define its size and extent, and to identify the source.
Investigators determined that this outbreak involved two strains of Salmonella — Salmonella Bareilly  and Salmonella Nchanga (Figures 1 and 2). Once the interviews with case patients began to point toward sushi as a possible carrier of the outbreak strains of Salmonella, there remained the complex task of figuring out what ingredient in the sushi might have been contaminated.
Because the evidence pointed to an FDA-regulated product, FDA took the lead on determining how the outbreak occurred, looking for ways to control it and identifying ways to prevent future outbreaks, which included testing foods, assessing food safety measures in restaurants and food processing facilities, and announcing food recalls.
FDA also traces foods to their origins, and, in this investigation, the traceback was a key means of identifying the food carrying Salmonella. Such tracebacks are painstaking efforts that require investigators to be both detectives and scientists. Teams must track a contaminated food or ingredient back to its source so that it can be taken off the market, preventing future illnesses. This process often requires collecting, reviewing and analyzing hundreds — sometimes thousands — of invoices and shipping documents. Investigators then connect that information to other bits and pieces gained from interviewing staff working at firms in the supply chain and from observations of investigators visiting the firms.
Searching for Clues in the Maze
All investigators know traceback is laborious. They might as well be looking for clues in a maze. First, the investigator must enter the labyrinth. But which of the hundreds of entrances is the right choice? Once inside, investigators have even more decisions to make. From the very beginning until the end, scientific methods and investigative skills must be harnessed to identify the source of the outbreak. And, once they reach the center of the maze, investigators must still find their way back, carefully choosing between pathways with more offshoots, dead ends, twists and turns. If they do everything right, investigators exit the maze with a map, new knowledge and understanding that can be used to prevent additional illnesses.
But the size of the outbreak can have a dramatic impact on the complexity of the investigation. Imagine standing before a maze, one that begins with just a few entrances but grows to have 425 entrances, each representing a reported illness in the outbreak tally. That was essentially the challenge presented to investigators during the 2012 investigation of the Salmonellosis outbreak linked to tuna. To determine how these people got sick, investigators stepped through certain doorways and followed clues. Analysts identified clusters of illnesses, selecting clusters at four restaurants to trace back. Then investigators painstakingly reviewed thousands of invoices and records from 45 companies that could have supplied the tuna to the restaurants. This allowed them to rule out 44 firms. The one remaining company supplied all four restaurants. They had navigated the maze and created a map, which we call traceback.
Inside the Investigation
It is hard to grasp the effort and difficulties involved in a traceback investigation. Before the restaurants and the supplier at the heart of the 2012 investigation were identified, this is what happened:
State and local health officials on the front lines identified and interviewed patients, working with CDC to determine what food was making people sick. The outbreak grew, and, as more information became available, the leading suspect became seafood, specifically spicy tuna sushi. But if people were made ill by sushi, what ingredient in the sushi might be carrying Salmonella? The candidates included mayonnaise, sesame seeds, fresh and frozen tuna, hot sauce, seaweed and rice.
FDA worked with state agencies to identify the brands of ingredients in common use at restaurants. The effort excluded all but tuna as the most likely candidate, and the traceback began.
During this step, the traceback team looks for clusters of patients who reported eating or shopping at a common location. It is important that the patients have a good memory of what they ate, or their purchases were documented in some way, such as with a grocery store shopper card or a purchase receipt.
Ideally, the team will identify at least three pathways to trace in different geographic areas. They must also determine what time period to investigate. If the time frame is too wide, it could bog down the investigation and collection of records. If it is too narrow, the team may miss vital information.
“It takes a team effort to stop an outbreak,” says Kathleen Gensheimer, M.D., director of FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network. “The FDA district offices, the federal, state and local authorities, scientists at FDA headquarters and in the field, and members of industry, everyone brings something to the table. Without that teamwork, it just couldn’t happen.”
During the investigation, investigators had to gain an understanding of each supplier’s handling of the tuna. Practices such as stock rotation and inventory control can help narrow which suppliers to follow. The availability and accuracy of records can make or break a traceback investigation at this point.
“Recordkeeping varies from one company to the next, so with each supplier you have to learn and understand a new record system and new operating practices,” says Gensheimer. “Many companies keep excellent records, but when recordkeeping is not good, it can lead to a dead end.”
Ultimately, FDA followed the trail of tuna shipments from the four restaurants through 45 separate suppliers before finding the source of the bad tuna.
Going Back to Move Forward
Finding the common supplier, though, is only half the battle. When FDA knows where the food came from, there’s still another question. Where else did this food go?
The next step is a trace-forward analysis, which can identify new pathways of exposure that need to be blocked. Analysts examined shipping records, invoices and information on product-handling practices to track shipments from the common tuna supplier to 20 additional restaurants that served tuna to customers who reported becoming ill during this outbreak.
The results of these traceback and trace-forward investigations quickly led to the recall of 58,000 pounds of frozen tuna and an alert to FDA inspectors at U.S. points of entry to detain further shipments of frozen tuna from this supplier to prevent future illness.
The Evolving Process
Although the traceback method was used as far back as the 1920s during a typhoid outbreak linked to fresh oysters in New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C., the increasingly global marketplace makes the technique both more important and more challenging. FDA began to place more emphasis on traceback in the late 1980s and 1990s, as Salmonella Enteritidis outbreaks were linked to fresh shell eggs, and relied on it in the late 1990s as more outbreaks were detected.
“The FDA’s focus on traceback really goes hand in hand with the evolution of FDA’s mission from one focused primarily on enforcement to a mission focused more on prevention,” says Jack Guzewich, a former senior adviser on environmental health at FDA. “We began to broaden our view of what evidence we could act upon — going beyond positive laboratory samples to acting on epidemiological evidence. That made a huge change.”
Historically, you can chart the rapid development of FDA’s traceback process from outbreaks of Cyclosporiasis linked to raspberries in the late 1990s. Prior to that, FDA traceback investigations were for packaged products, in which much of the needed information is on the package label, and, because these types of product have a longer shelf life, the risk of illness is prolonged.
“This meant a fairly straightforward traceback process could be followed,” says Guzewich. “Fresh produce, on the other hand, often has no such label, so a much more complex and difficult traceback effort is required.”
FDA adopted a traceback process in use by CDC and state regulatory and public health agencies at the time and developed it further. Shortly afterward, FDA issued its first guidance to its staff for conducting traceback investigations related to produce, which led to the development of a traceback course in the late 1990s.
In 1995, following the advent of PulseNet, a database of the DNA information from bacteria related to illnesses across the country, health officials could identify multistate outbreaks that might previously have gone unrecognized.
“FDA depends on close collaboration with partners at CDC, state and local public health, and food safety agencies to identify the outbreaks and to provide much of the information used in tracebacks,” notes Guzewich. “They could not be accomplished without this cooperation.”
Into the Future
Over time, FDA’s traceback methods have become more refined, and the agency has offered a course so that its staff and members of state and local agencies can learn about the techniques and methods developed and standardized over the past few decades.
“With this course, we want to formalize the traceback process and make what we’ve learned available to health officials across the country,” says Katie Vierk, a developer of the course and a team leader at CORE. “Responding to an outbreak is a very collaborative effort. If everyone is aware of and using the same process, it is a tremendous help during an outbreak response.”
The course covers all the steps in the process, from logistics to the information that must be collected, and how to best analyze and present the data.
“All of this is important, because our goal is to be able to document the traceback and, if needed, take appropriate action,” adds Vierk. “At the end of the course, students participate in a simulated traceback exercise using real data. We’re teaching practical, usable skills and we want to demonstrate that right away.”
Congress also had the intention of improving product tracing when the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was developed. In that legislation, Congress directed FDA to establish pilot projects for produce and processed food to explore and evaluate fast, effective food-tracing methods and technologies.
The pilot projects were completed by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), under contract with FDA, culminating in March 2013 with the release of a final report.
IFT consulted with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state agencies, consumer groups, and the processed food and produce industries on proposed foods and ingredients and product-tracing technologies for the pilot projects.
The 45 companies volunteering to participate in the pilots included tomato growers in the U.S. and Mexico, an import company, tomato processors, ingredient suppliers, processed food manufacturers, food distributors, retailers and foodservice chains.
Tomatoes were among several foods chosen for testing because they have been involved in a number of significant outbreaks, have a complex food supply chain, and were identified by most industry associations as a top candidate for inclusion.
A frozen Kung Pao-style meal containing domestic peanut products, red pepper spice and chicken was also chosen for testing, as were dry versions of this type of meal into which consumers would add their own chicken. Jarred peanut butter was also tested.
In the final report, IFT noted that the pilot participants appeared to have many of the tools and processes in place to contribute to a successful traceback by regulatory agencies, though there were challenges. For instance, most participating firms provided documents that could not be electronically manipulated. The formats of the documents allowed for easy transmittal of information, but forced those trying to use the data to either extract them manually or use an optical character reader. This slowed the analysis of the data and opened it to the potential for errors to be introduced.
In addition, inconsistencies in the terminology, numbering systems, formatting, legibility and language meant that traceback analysts had to spend additional time following up with the firms to make sure the data were accurate.
“The IFT experienced exactly what the FDA experiences in real outbreaks. During an outbreak, people are getting sick and we need to act fast but are stymied by these challenges,” says Sherri McGarry, the manager of this project and a senior adviser in FDA’s Office of Food and Veterinary Medicine.
The IFT final report also noted that some participating firms had never considered how their records would need to be pieced together with those of their suppliers in a traceback investigation. The report noted that the participants were surprised by the process used and expected an experience more like a mock recall, in which they would be provided with a lot number and asked to identify where the product was sent.
“Most firms have a good handle on what comes in and a good handle on what goes out, but there’s a gap in the middle,” says McGarry. “Here’s an example. Let’s say you have five shipments of a type of fruit from five different growers. Some of that fruit was repackaged and sent out unprocessed, while some of it was put into fruit salads. If a firm can tell you how the incoming shipments link to the specific outgoing shipment, it would speed traceback dramatically as we link shipments again and again through the supply chain.”
An added advantage was that industry participants were able to identify benefits from improved record-keeping. They reported that, depending on their place in the supply chain, better record-keeping could potentially improve internal processes, help expand distribution, reduce insurance costs and improve consumer confidence and brand reputation.
The findings of the pilot projects and input from stakeholders will help FDA recommend product-tracing improvements in a report to Congress, as required by FSMA. Also, FDA will use the information from these pilot projects and earlier studies to draft a proposed regulation, also required by FSMA, to establish record-keeping requirements for facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold high-risk foods to help in tracing products more quickly, reducing illnesses in the event of food contamination.
“Traceback is an important part of any foodborne outbreak response. Once epidemiology identifies a common food as the vehicle for the bacteria or virus, we still may not know what specific ingredient is causing the problem,” says Gensheimer. “At that point, traceback can be used to help identify the sources of ingredients and, potentially, the source of the ingredient carrying the contamination. Once we know that, we can get the product off the market.”
When 550 million shell eggs were recalled from two Iowa farms in 2010 as the nation experienced an outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis (SE), Austin “Jack” DeCoster owned or controlled the largest egg production conglomerate in the U.S. Government attorneys say he knew more than he’s let on about controlling the pathogen, and they plan to prove it at sentencing.
Among those holdings, as it turned out, were both Iowa production facilities targeted in the largest recall of shell eggs in U.S. history, Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms. DeCoster reluctantly acknowledged Hillandale was his after it was tied to Wright Farms by a common feed mill.
Now DeCoster, 71, and his son, Peter DeCoster, 51, are awaiting sentencing after entering guilty pleas for selling adulterated food. The defendants hope that a novel legal theory being advanced by their attorneys will keep them out of jail.
While that issue may be complicating sentencing, government attorneys are planning on bringing up what DeCoster knew, or should have known, about controlling Salmonella Enteritidis from his experience of running that egg production conglomerate.
At the time of the outbreak, DeCoster was known as a major egg producer, with holdings stretching from Maine to Ohio to Iowa. But other DeCoster egg holdings and investments were kept secret, including his stake in Hillandale Farms. Journalists such as Tom Philpott at Grist kept probing until the true size of the DeCoster egg holdings were nailed down.
At sentencing, government attorneys say they will present evidence that DeCoster’s Quality Egg in Iowa did not follow the SE prevention and remediation practices that the company had been forced to implement in Maine. The government’s thinking is that you cannot run that many egg businesses without knowing a few things about SE.
“For example,” prosecutors say, “since 2009, the State of Maine had imposed a ‘zero-tolerance’ rodent policy mandating that if multiple mice are seen in a layer barn, the barn must be depopulated, cleaned and tested for SE before a new flock of hens can be placed in the same barn.”
“Government witnesses will testify that Quality Egg of Iowa had a serious rodent problem that it was just starting to address when the 2010 Salmonella outbreak occurred, and that when rodents or even SE were detected in the Iowa layer barns, defendants did not depopulate, clean, or even retest for SE,” court documents say.
Government attorneys will argue the defendants tolerated a situation in Iowa where rodents proliferated and layer hens contracted and shed SE in the barns and laid SE-contaminated eggs, all the while knowing from the conglomerate’s experience in Maine how to prevent and eradicate the pathogen.
Jack and Peter DeCoster have both pleaded guilty to selling adulterated food, a federal misdemeanor with a possible prison term of up to one year. In April plea agreements, they agreed to personally pay fines of $100,000 each, but their attorneys are arguing that their clients cannot be jailed or confined in any manner.
The defendants also claim that they have no knowledge of the violation or no knowledge of the conduct underlying the offense. Government attorneys say the evidence indicates otherwise.
“To the contrary, defendants knew about the insanitary conditions at Quality Egg LLC (Quality Egg), including Salmonella contamination throughout its barns and flocks, but they disregarded the obvious and serious risk that Salmonella also contaminated the shell eggs sold by Quality Eggs,” the government claims.
At sentencing, prosecutors will argue that the defendants had a “culpable mental state,” which eliminates their argument for no jail time. The government also says that custodial sentences are constitutionally permissible for strict-liability offenses.
“Particularly where, as here, a strict-liability offense involves conduct that has the potential to cause substantial and widespread harm to public health, the possibility of incarceration does not offend the Constitution, regardless of whether it is judged (as defendants contend) under the more general standards of the Due Process Clause, or (as it arguably should be) under the Eighth Amendment’s standards for ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’” the prosecution team adds.
The Pre-Sentence Investigative Reports (PSIRs) for both defendants, although sealed and subject to objections, reportedly state that both DeCosters knew of the significant SE contamination at their Iowa egg production facility
Also, government attorneys say that defendant objections to the PSIRs “reflect their knowledge of preventative and ameliorative measures recommended to control the company’s SE and pest control problems.” They also had knowledge of multiple SE environmental tests performed in their barns and hen necropsies that were positive for SE, prosecutors say.
Quality Egg pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and the felony count of bribing a public official (an egg inspector). A family trust, Quality Egg has agreed to pay a $6.8-million fine.
DeCoster announced in 2011 that the family would divest its egg businesses. At one time, its collection of egg businesses totaled 35.6 million hens, making DeCoster the largest egg producer in the U.S. It’s unclear how much, if any, are left.
Consumers in Sullivan County, NY, and surrounding areas are being warned not to consume unpasteurized raw milk from the Richard Dirie Farm due to possible Listeria contamination. The farm is located at 1345 Shandelee Rd., Livingston Manor, NY, about 100 miles southwest of Albany.
Officials with the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets said Tuesday they were not aware of any illnesses associated with this product.
A sample of the milk was collected by an inspector from the Division of Milk Control and Dairy Services on Oct. 21, 2014, was subsequently tested by the department’s Food Laboratory and discovered to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
On Oct. 23, 2014, the producer was notified of a preliminary positive test result, and he volunteered to suspend raw milk sales until the sample results were confirmed. Further laboratory testing, completed on Oct. 28, 2014, confirmed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in the raw milk sample. The producer is now prohibited from selling raw milk until subsequent sampling indicates that the product is free of harmful bacteria.
Listeria monocytogenes is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, cancer patients, elderly people and others with weakened immune systems. Although otherwise healthy persons may suffer only short-term, flu-like symptoms such as high fever, severe headaches, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.
The officials said that it’s important to note that raw milk does not provide the protection of pasteurization, which eliminates all pathogenic bacteria, including Listeria.